News from the U.S. Province

Sulpicians and Slavery

“The Sulpicians & Slavery,”

A Lecture by Thomas R. Ulshafer, PSS

Fr. Thomas R. Ulshafer, PSS, shared the results of his research into the intertwined history of the Sulpicians and slavery in the early United States at an afternoon of lecture and discussion held Saturday, October 12, 2019.

The presentation took place in the St. Mary’s Seminary Chapel, built in 1808 on the site of the first Roman Catholic Seminary founded in the United States. Fr. Ulshafer, a former Provincial Superior of the U.S. Province, provided a thorough, academic examination of the Sulpicians’ use of enslaved labor in the early years in both Baltimore and in

Emmitsburg. He presented his research before the largest public audience in many years at the historic Upper Chapel on Paca Street in Baltimore.

St. Mary’s on Paca Street, which encompasses both the 1808 Chapel and the 1808 Mother Seton House, was an appropriate forum to bring forth the dichotomy of thinking regarding people of color. The Chapelle Basse, or Lower Chapel, of the Seminary Chapel was a gathering place for the local community—which in the late 1700s included many Haitian refugees. Because it was against the law for people of color to congregate in the slave state of Maryland, this chapel became a unique space of freedom and progressive thinking on education in Baltimore. It was also into the Chapelle Basse that Mary Elizabeth Lange, an educated woman of color from the Caribbean, was welcomed in the 1820s. This was where she professed her vows, and where she founded the Oblate  Sisters of Providence in 1829, thus creating the first religious order for women of color in the world.

Fr. Ulshafer brought the audience into the early days of the French Sulpicians— themselves fleeing the turmoil and slaughter of the French Revolution. He relied on sources, including the meticulously kept journal of Fr. Jean-Marie Tessier. (Fr. Tessier was the second Sulpician Provincial Superior, serving from 1810 to 1829). Fr. Ulshafer also cited the use of enslaved labor by Fr. Ambrose Maréchal, another Sulpician who later became the third Archbishop of Baltimore.

“It may seem odd or even hypocritical, the fact that these early Sulpicians took a leadership role in ministering to and educating blacks, including the enslaved, while accepting or tolerating the seemingly incompatible view of domestic slavery,” Fr. Ulshafer summarized.

Sulpicians and Slavery: An Intertwined History

In 1791, at the invitation of Bishop John Carroll, members of the Priests of St. Sulpice (known as the Sulpicians) arrived in Baltimore from Paris, France, to establish the first Roman Catholic Seminary in the young United States. They were also fleeing the turmoil and persecution of their Society brought about by the French Revolution. They began ministering to the black Catholic community (principally Haitian refugees), and made the seminary’s Chapelle Basse (Lower Chapel) a space for these refugees to gather for worship. At the same time, the Sulpicians were part of the post-colonial culture and used enslaved labor within the seminary, both as domestic workers and field hands.

Fr. Thomas Ulshafer, PSS, has extensively researched the Sulpicians’ historical connection to slavery. He presented the implications of this connection for the Sulpicians’ early survival and success in the United States.

“Slavery and the Early Sulpician Community in Maryland,” published this year in the U.S. Catholic Historian, by Thomas R. Ulshafer, PSS, set out to “investigate the Sulpicians’ historical connections to slavery and reflect on its implications for the community, arguing that the Sulpicians’ early survival and success in the U.S. depended significantly on the labor of enslaved men, women, and children.”

Ulshafer, T.R., P.S.S. (2019). Slavery and the Early Sulpician Community in Maryland. U.S. Catholic Historian 37(2), 1-21. doi:10.1353/cht.2019.0013.

Obituary: Fr. James W. Lothamer, PSS

Fr. James W. Lothamer, PSS

November 9. 1942 – November 1, 2019

Like the utility fielder who plays multiple positions on the baseball field, Fr. Jim Lothamer, PSS was our “utility Sulpician.”  His ministry with the Province has had him play teacher, administrator, recruiter, editor, treasurer, and pastor.  

James William Lothamer was the second of fifteen children born in Coldwater, MI on November 9, 1942 to John and Helen (nee Cox) Lothamer. 

He earned the B.A. degree from St. Charles College in Columbus, OH (1964) and then the S.T.B. from St. John’s Provincial Seminary, Plymouth, MI (1968).  He later earned the M.A. degree in theology (1972) and also the Ph.D. (1980) from the University of St. Michael’s College, Toronto, Ontario.

After ordination to the priesthood for the Diocese of Lansing, MI June 1, 1968, Fr. Lothamer was assigned as a Sulpician candidate to St. Charles College, Catonsville, MD. He taught there from 1968 to 1970 and again from 1975 to 1977. These years of teaching at the college level were his only teaching experience for the Province.  While finishing his doctoral dissertation, he served as the Director of Recruitment for St. Mary’s Seminary and University, Roland Park, from 1978-1980. After completing his doctorate, he served St. Mary’s again as its Vice-President for Resource/Development (1981-1987) and again as its recruitment director (1986-1988).

After a sabbatical (1988), Fr. Lothamer served the Province as the Director of Discernment and Admissions (1989-1994) along with being editor of the provincial publication Update. He then left Baltimore to become pastor in his home diocese at St. Joseph’s Church, Adrian, MI (1994-2000) but continued his connection to the Province through his editorial work for Update and the Generalate publication, Bulletin de St. Sulpice.  After another sabbatical, he returned to serve the Province as the Associate Director of the sabbatical program, The Vatican II Institute for Continuing Education of the Clergy, on the campus of St. Patrick’s Seminary in Menlo Park, CA (2001-2003).

He then returned to his diocese to serve as pastor of St. Agnes Church, Fowlerville, MI (2003-2010). After another sabbatical (2010-2011), he continued his pastoral service in his home diocese for the Catholic community of East Lansing.  In that ministry he was well-loved for his preaching and was able to work closely with the campus ministry program of Michigan State University. He officially retired in January 2013. He was then appointed as Provincial Treasurer in 2015.

Not long after officially retiring, Fr. Lothamer was diagnosed with urothelial cancer.  In August of 2016, he underwent surgery to remove his bladder. He recovered well from this surgery and was able to provide pastoral service for St. Mary’s Church, Charlotte, MI (2015-2016), St. Mary’s Church Pinckney, MI (2017) and St. Mary’s Church, Morrice, MI (2017-2018).

While giving many years of pastoral service to his home diocese, Fr. Lothamer remained closely tied to the Sulpician community. He was a faithful participant in community gatherings for retreat and convocation. He was a lifelong learner, as he used his sabbatical opportunities to develop language skills in French, German, and Italian, which he used well to connect his American family with their European counterparts.  He loved to travel, to keep abreast of current events, and to read widely. Together these interests made him a spirited conversationalist on all matters ecclesial and political.  

In July 2018, Fr. Lothamer moved back to Baltimore to retire in the Sulpician retirement community of Villa Olier. In October of 2019, a CT scan and biopsy revealed aggressive cancer moving through his liver. One of Fr. Lothamer’s firmest and final requests was that he return to Michigan to live his final days under the hospice care of Sparrow Hospital in Lansing, MI where he would be close to his family and surrounded by the community he so loved from his service to them in his pastoral ministry. Fr. Lothamer died on November 1, 2019 after a short stay in hospice.

His wake service and funeral were in his home parish, St. Agnes Church, in Fowlerville. The celebrant of the Mass was his close friend, Fr. Jim Eisele, and Fr. Richard Gula, P.S.S. was the homilist. Interment was in his family plot at Riverside Cemetery in Bellevue, MI.

The large congregation that assembled for both the Vigil Service and the Funeral Mass served as testimony to the impact that Fr. Lothamer had upon so many lives and to his remarkable capacity to establish and maintain friendships across a lifetime.

Richard M. Gula, PSS
Director of Personnel